Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cysco Cycles CX Gravel Grinder Review

I have had this work of art built with love by Richie Moore, owner of Cysco Cycles and designed by Chris Williams for 4 months.  I have racked up several hundred miles, including one race.  I feel now that I can share my experiences with you about how well she rides.

Beautiful welds.

I wanted the frame as lightweight as possible, but still strong enough to minimize flex.  That being said, Richie ran with a 1 1/2" downtube and 1 3/8" top tube and seat tube.  Chainstays were 5/8".   Having PF bottom brackets on all my other bikes (and having no issues), I opted for the same.  It has an oversize tallish HT for comfort and I wanted thru axles front/rear so the rear is a Paragon Machine Works PolyDrop.

Paragon Machine Works eye candy!

3.6 pounds

I'll take the weight penalty for a real head badge.

I went with a Whiskey #9 Fork (475 grams), Cane Creek 110 headset, Stan's Ravens 700 x 35 mounted on Industry 9 UL CX wheels (1400 grams w/ tape and valve stems), SRAM Red 22 groupset (mechanicals now, but going back to hydraulics), Specialized CG-R seatpost, Specialized Toupe saddle, Thomson seat binder and stem, Specialized Women's carbon bar, King Ti bottle cages, and Xpedo M Force 8 Ti pedals.

As a basis for comparison, Lisa let me borrow her Cannondale Super X last fall.  In the two months that I had that amazing machine, I put a ton of miles and the Pisgah Monster Cross on it.  I loved how it handled and so based my Cysco off it.

With a wheelbase of 1013mm, HT angle of 69 degrees and a BB height of 270mm, she is stable!  I feel very at ease descending and cornering on the steepest of fire roads.  The only time I get a little rattled (both mind and body) is on stutter bumps.  Or descending Pisgah forest service road 2250 in fog so thick visibility is only 20-30 feet!

It is stiff enough for me.  Probably not as big an issue for me as a more heavily muscled, powerful rider, I don't feel any flex when hammering out of the saddle.

The compliance is unreal.  I was worried that the Whiskey fork might be too stiff being a thru axle, but I have been very comfortable on rides/races in the 4-5 hour range.  When I initially had the SRAM hydraulic brakes (pre-recall), I felt comfortable and in control descending on the hoods (unless I encountered long sections of deep stutter bumps).  During the HardFord 50, I descended mainly in the drops due to weather conditions and the mechanical brakes.  Couple the frame to the "cobble gobble" seat post and my tush was very happy ... no "jack-assage."  I also experienced no hand/finger numbness or shoulder/upper back achiness.

S-Bend Seatstays make for a forgiving ride.

Funky yet functional.

My only dislike is that on occasion, like when I am trying to manhandle her out of the saddle on 20% grades or turn around in a tight space, my foot will tap the front tire.  Not a fault of the creator, but due to how I run my cleats so far back on my shoes.  If I had to do it all over again, I would have had a slightly longer top tube.  But ... this has had no negative effects on my rides and race.

I am very pleased with my new steed.  Custom may not be for everyone, but I think everyone ought to try a titanium frame.  It's all about carbon right now, but everyone forgets how nice a ride titanium can be.  Richie has been building frames for 19 years, starting out with Litespeed and for the past 5 years via his own company.

Richie has standard geometry as well as custom.  Chris is the best and most patient person I know when it comes to the design.  He was always available to talk, no matter what hour of the day. And Cysco Cycles offers a lifetime warranty!

The big question is:  had I not been a sponsored racer, would I still purchase a Cysco?  The answer is undoubtedly YES!  I just would have had to wait a little longer while I worked some additional shifts.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

HardFord 50 Race Report

Every time I would travel through the chicanes of I-40 East to places like Brevard and North Wilkesboro to race, I would catch myself looking up at the mountains and wondering if there were some places to grind out some good rides.  Well, I found out last Saturday that there are some spectacular forest roads in this part of the Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests.

I found out about this inaugural gravel grinder through my FB NewsFeed.  I was itchin' to race my Cysco Ti gravel grinder and so pre registered a couple weeks prior.  In hindsight, I was glad I did.  Because as the time approached, the weather forcast got uglier and uglier.  As I was traveling to the venue, the skies opened up and the rain came down.  Oh, and it was just warm enough for rain ... 36 degrees.

I never thought about bailing.  After my fail at P36 a couple weeks back, I was determined to beat Mother Nature at this one.  I came with an arsenal of wool and waterproof gear and was using this race as a testing ground for the Pisgah Productions races I would come to love/hate later this year.

My SCUBA suit

51 of us began this race.  Wes, of 35 North Produtions, was the promoter.  He was raising money for Grassy Fork Elementary School ... the only school in Tennessee to still be on a well and septic tank!  And yes, it was still raining.

I was warm and happy as the lead group took it easy for the first mile or so.  But as soon as we left the pavement and hit the first dirt climb, the front runners took off like bats out of hell.  I was content to let them go, knowing it was going to be a long epic day and my legs were not quite ready to up the wattage yet.

The first big climb up Black Mountain Road had some steep pitches and a couple sections of freshly laid large gravels.  That made it tough keeping contact with the road and not spinning out. But for the most part, the gravel road was hard packed and fast.  Even though it was raining and temps were in the 30's, I had to unzip a layer.

The second climb up Mt. Sterling Road was much like the first.  It was here that I began to pass a few people and inch my way up the ladder.  I bypassed the first aid station.  Did I mention that it was still raining?  So far my shower cap, GoreTex, and duct tape was doing the job, keeping the wind and rain outside so that I was all comfy cozy on the inside.

The descending was a little slower than I would have liked, but I am kinda new to this CX skinny tire racing with mechanical disck brakes style of racing.  And even though the conditions were miserable, people were still out in their 4WD's and I did not want to become a hood ornament.  As Zeke would say, "You don't get old by being stupid!"

On the second big descent I noticed that when I squeezed my brake levers they were getting closer to the bar.  I tried adjusting them on the fly, but with all the mud and cold fingertips that was near impossible.  I told myself that the next time I stopped I would adjust them.

I was going to stop at the second aid station to refill my bottles.  As I approached mile 26, there was a distinct odor in the air:  BACON!  Probably someone at a campground.  But as I rounded the corner and saw the TVB van and a couple EZ Ups, I realized that it was they that be doing the cookin'!  Thick cut bacon, real French toast, and hot coffee!  I could have easily eaten 5 pieces of bacon, but I wisely chose just one, as the big climb of the day lay ahead.  Can you say BEST AID STATION EVER!

The climb to Max Patch was a humdinger:  2500 feet in 8 miles.  It was here, approximately 2 1/2 hours into the race that I felt the first signs of fatigue.  I had chased my 1 piece of bacon down with 2 gels and was waiting on that to kick in.  At least the grade wasn't as steep as the first two climbs. At about the 3 hour mark, the rain had FINALLY stopped.  As I got towards the top of the climb, the fog had settled in thick.  Climbing through it was pretty serene.  Closing in on the last aid station, I saw two volunteers shrouded in the mist, cheering me on.  "Only 200 yards to the top," they said.

I stopped at the last aid station to take in some more gel.  The volunteers there were awesome, asking if I needed anything, making sure I was warm, and warning me of the first technical descent. 2250 was a 2-3 mile stretch of unmaintained forest road in the Pisgah portion of this race.  On a good day with a full suspension mountain bike, it would be hard!  What with the cold, the fog, the mud, the puddles of water of unknown depth, and the fact that I had forgotten to adjust my brakes made for a pucker factor of 10+ on that first mile down.

Luckily I was able to hang on for longer than 8 seconds (that will the closest thing to riding a bull for me) and when the terrain finally leveled out, I hopped off my bike and adjusted my brakes.  Needless to say, I am NOT a fan of mechanicals.  After what seemed like an eternity (frozen fingers, moisture laden gloves, and mud-caked inline adjustors), I finally had brakes again.  This made for a little more enjoyable second half of 2250.

The remainder of the descent down to pavement was smooth, fast, and furious!  And fun, I might add!  Popping out onto the pavement, the race director said to follow the yellow line and I would be at the finish in 8 miles.  That was a long 8 miles!  Not to mention the boxer who just about nailed my right ankle as I was climbing a nice little kicker halfway (I had difficulty unclipping, but was able to at the last moment, and kick him away).

I would choose the Cysco CX over a MTB again.  Just need to work on my technical descending skills.

I came across the finish line in 4:29, 1st woman and 10th overall.  And, with a gritty smile across my face.  30 out of 51 finished.

What an epic day!  My clothing choices were spot on.  Other than cold toes and fingers, the rest of me was quite toasty all day.

The sun finally came out for the podium.

I loved the course.  Three tough climbs, 1 technical descent, and for the most part the dirt was smooth and hard packed.  The aid stations were great, the volunteers motivating, and the post race barbeque was most delicious!  I hope that I can return next year and race it when it is a bit warmer and drier as I heard there are some killer views.

And hopefully Grassy Fork Elementary will be one step closer to getting city water and sewer.

Thanks Wes for preparing me for my future adventures this year!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pisgah 36 Race Report, Stages 3 and 4

Stage 3 was pretty straight forward.  I was planning on grabbing only the two mandatories:  intersection of Farlow Gap and 229C and the intersection of 475C and Bracken Mountain Trail.  I decided to head up to Farlow first, during the warmest part of the day.  This climb would be the only time I was in short sleeves this whole race!  I thought I was feeling o.k. pedaling up 475, but once I turned onto 229, my legs were gone!  It did not help that the road was super soft and slushy in sections.  And then I started having pain in my left foot with each pedal stroke.  At one point, I had to get off the bike and walk 100 yards, hoping the pain would subside.  It didn't.  I began having a discussion with myself, about bailing, not wanting to do any further damage, if the pain got any worse.  It didn't, and I continued.  Once I hit the single track to Farlow, the pain miraculously went away.

Deja vu!  

The short sleeves was nice while it lasted, but I bundled back up for the descent down to the fish hatchery.  I stopped just outside the Cove Creek campground gate, hooked my light up, and tested it out before heading to the second mandatory.  Just then Zeke showed up, my trail angel!  He helped to lift my spirits; I just wish he had brought my spare set of legs.  After a brief exchange of words, he left to head to the Sunset Motel, where a nice hot shower and warm bed awaited him.  I began the journey, once again into the unknown.

Forest road 475C  goes ... on ... forever!  8 miles of meandering slowly up to the Bracken Mountain trailhead.  At least the grade was pleasant and my foot was happy again.  I also seemed to have a little more fuel in the engine, as it was not sputtering like it had been going up to Farlow Gap earlier.   I crossed paths with Barnabas about 2/3 of the way up; he was coming down, but stopped to give me some motivation.  He was looking strong! Oh, to be in his shoes at that point.

Night 2 was approaching quickly!

The ride back down to the fish hatchery was quick, but the temps were dropping quickly.  The short pavement ride back up 475 to the campground was beginning to irritate me.  How many times now?  The little rises had turned into exhausting climbs.  It was here that I had my first doubt of being able to complete the task at hand.  Just keep moving forward, I told myself.  My legs were almost dead, my left wrist was achy, my shoulders were tight, and was that a headache coming on?

Checking in after Stage 3

It was 7:45 when I checked in.  I grabbed Stage 4 out of the box.  Another predetermined route, mostly forest road, but a doozy nonetheless.  And then the first chill hit me; I shook it off.  I hopped in my car, turned the engine on, and began to prepare.  Eat, drink, yawn, change clothing, open packets of chemical warmers, look at the route again, yawn again.  I layered up just like I had the first night (in hindsight, big mistake).

Stage 3 Stats:
Time:  4:45
Distance: 34 miles
Elevation Gain:  4300 feet
Average Temp:  50 degrees

At 8:35 I hopped out of the vehicle, reattached the Brahma bull of seat bags (this housed my 40 degree sleeping bag.  I was having a hard time telling my fingers what to do and it took about 5 minutes to accomplish.

I was definitely NOT in a happy place as I began the climb up 475B.  When I realized that I was not generating enough power to keep me warm on this climb, I began to formulate a bail out plan ... just in case.

The face says it all.

After taking a selfie of the first CP, I decided that if I did not warm up by the time I hit the horse stables, I would head back to camp.  I had a long season ahead of me and did not need to make a stupid mistake that would jeopardize the remainder of the season.

Heading down 477, I entered the first stage of hypothermia.  I stopped shivering, experienced mental confusion, and drowsiness (I began to yawn like crazy ... weird!?!)  That was the slowest I have ever descended 477.  Heading up 5058 would only have put me is harm's way.  I still had the task of getting back to camp ... 8 miles away.  I don't even remember pedaling back up 276.  I suppose I was on autopilot.

Once I arrived, I immediately hopped in my vehicle, turned the engine on, and proceded to thaw out.  After about an hour, I felt human again, but utterly exhausted!  I managed to get out of my riding clothes and climb in my sleeping bag.  Unfortunately, I forgot to set my alarm.

I awoke abruptly at 6:50 am, but what with the time change it was now 7:50 am.  The competitor in me instantly began formulating a plan to finish.  But it was quickly determined that I could probably only finish the stage I had set out on the night before.  I was o.k. with that.  I did not regret my decision the night before.  I was only mad that I had not set my alarm to get an earlier start and perhaps still be in the running to finish the whole race.

I was on my bike by 8:30am.  I had until 1 pm to finish stage 4.  I had to pedal the 8 miles back down to the horse stables to resume Stage 4.  The climb up Clawhammer was pleasant; the sun was out, the temperature bearable, and the body was happy again.  It was nice to be able to shed clothing as my core heated up.  Buckhorn and South Mills was fast and flowy.  The gravel grind along 1206 and 475B was enjoyable.

It was all rainbows and unicorns again.

225 was upon me before I knew it; I almost blew by it.  Let me tell you, after 150+ miles of Pisgah, 225 is a bitch of a climb!  The kind of climb where you look around every corner expecting to see your turn, but all you see is more ribbon of single track.

I was so happy to see this intersection, I think my smile muscles cramped.

It was all downhill from here.  Even though I was not an official finisher, I pedaled into camp a happy woman.  Eric had tested all of my abilities.  After 36 hours, 180 miles and 22,000 feet of climbing I was alive.  My body may have been wrecked, but my spirit soared!  Eric's races test you like no other ... and this is why I keep coming back, even though they are so damn hard!  I have a carrot for 2015 now!

Stage 4 Stats
Time:  7:08
Distance:  59 miles
Elevation Gain:  5700 feet
Average Temp:  38 degrees  (was 28 degrees at the point I bailed Saturday night)


I am proud to say that although I did not finish all 6 stages, I was only the second person to finish four.  Barnabas Froystad persevered and conquered the course ... a huge shout out goes to him!

And, 1 week later, I have no lingering injuries or regrets.  Ready to hammer out a power test this upcoming week and continue with a little gravel grinder, the HardFord 50 next weekend.

Thanks Eric for one helluva weekend!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pisgah 36 Race Report

So, after 40 minutes spent at my vehicle prepping for Stage 2, I headed out of Cove Creek Campground.  I was headed towards Pilot Cove Loop Trail to grab the first mandatory, Slate Rock Overlook.  This was a new to me trail and I wasn't sure where the CP was, but pretty sure I would know it when I saw it.  I set a nice chipper pace up 276 to 1206.  1206 was closed to traffic, so no worries in straightening that road on the descents.

No tracks in front of me ... first one to this CP.

The snow was beginning to melt.  And so it stuck to my tires and shoes, which made for slow going, both pushing and pedaling.  I was still in a happy place, however, looking for the CP.  I had to make several stops, checking my map, making sure I was on the correct trail.

Slate Rock Overlook

From there, I headed to the next mandatory, taking a short 20 minute detour to grab an optional CP.  The last time I was on Cantrell Creek was during the inaugural Pisgah 111.  At that time it was wet, muddy, and overgrown.  Today I could see the thousands of baby head rocks!  I pinballed my way down the trail to the next mandatory CP, Cantrell Creek Lodge.

Warm and happy!

At this point I was 4 hours into this stage ... and at the lowest elevation.  I had a long arduous climb out of this hole.  This was the first time that I began to show signs of fatigue.  I made a mental calculation of kcal consumed and determined that I was taking in enough fuel.  But I was also into my 12th hour of racing!  The longest ride I had done this year was The Snake Creek Gap TT, a little shy of 3 1/2 hours.  1/3 down 2/3 to go.  I headed back to camp via Squirrel, South Mills, and Buckhorn.  The trails were in awesome shape.  By the time I hit the horse stables I was out of water.  Not a pressing issue as I just had another 30-35 minutes back to Cove Creek campground.

Once I checked in, I grabbed the Stage 3 passport and headed back to my vehicle to eat again, this time chicken and a sweet potato.  I thought I was feeling pretty good and eager to tackle the next stage!

2 down, 4 to go!

Distance:  51 miles
Elevation Gain:  5800 feet
Average Temp:  48 degrees

Pisgah 36 Race Report

The Brahma bull of seat bags ... required sleeping bag for the night stages.

I've had my eye on this race for several years now, trying to work up some courage and insanity to give it a go.  The format was pretty simple, for the promoter anyways.  Complete 6 stages in 36 hours to be considered a finisher.  Each stage had 6 checkpoints, with at least two being mandatory.  The winner would be the one with the most CP's in the least amount of time.  Proof of acquiring the CP was in the form of a "selfie" with a trail marker or some other distinguishing feature.  Some stages had set "routes," while others were yours to create.  There were no course markings so you had to be really familiar with the forest or be a good map reader.  Other than a bonfire and a light charging station, there ... was ... NO ... support!

At midnight, 12 fools, er,  I mean 12 brave souls lined up at the start.  The temperature was 29 degrees.  Eric had each stage in an old Army ammo box.  At the word, "Go," each of us reached into the first box and pulled out the passport.  What came to mind was the Food Network show, Chopped, where competing chefs would open their baskets to an array of weird foods, from which they had 20 minutes to make a meal that would be analyzed by a panel of judges.  Instead of creating a meal out of near impossible ingredients, I would have to create a doable course out of 2-6 near impossible CP's.

With my heart rate already at twice my resting rate, I opened my passport with trepidation.  Whew! This stage was a set route where I would have to grab all 6 CP's.   I recognized most of the roads and trails.  It was just a game of "connect the dots."  But in between the "dots" would be miles of pedaling and pushing.

I started out riding with some familiar faces.  Nothing like building some confidence than by having friends around you, assuring you that you are headed in the right direction.  The joint venture soon ended, though, as our paces were different.  I knew that in order to have a feasible chance of finishing, I would have to forge ahead.

The first challenge (I doubt Eric got any sleep that first night because of the intense burning in his ears) was going UP Farlow Gap Trail.  In this direction, perhaps 15% is rideable.  The remainder is some ungodly pushing, carrying, and hoisting of one's bike.  Not to mention the 4-5 creek crossings which took some doing so as to keep the feet dry.  I was o.k. with it, as the very first time I had seen Farlow was in this direction.  And the 2-3" of snow in the latter half was surreal.  Crunch, crunch, crunch, I just followed the 3-4 sets of tracks in front of me.

Fatih, my trusty Pisgah steed.

Headed off the backside, I was going into less than familiar territory.  I was thankful for those ahead of me as they laid out breadcrumbs (tire tracks).  It also made it easier to pedal downhill in the snow.  At one point the tracks split; I had to pull the map out and pray for my sense of direction, as the roads were not marked. Through their misfortune, Kip and Neal confirmed my location when I rolled up to them at an unmarked intersection,  as they missed a turn and a CP.

After popping back out at Gloucester Gap, the remainder of the course was straightforward.  As dawn approached, I was finishing up Cat Gap Trail.  Coming out into the fish hatcery parking lot, I forgot about the thin chain that was across the entrance to 475C.  At the first break of light, it is always a bit difficult to see.  Well, I saw the chain, locked up my brakes, and flew over the bars.  Luckily, I was so bundled up, I had a cushy landing on the pavement.  The only injury was to my pride.  It was 6:20 am at this point, and thankfully the parking lot was empty, so I did not have an audience to my spectacle.

I arrived back at camp at 6:40 am for a semi-quick gear change and refuel.   I had pre-made a sandwich.  After 3 years of trying to come up with a suitable substitute, I had my first Paleo PB&J!

It's the little things that are morale boosters!

One stage down, 5 to go!

Distance:  37 miles
Elevation gain:  5600ft
Average temp:  26 degrees

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Snake Creek Gap TT Finale Race Report

Cool schwag ... as usual.

In 2010 I had my fastest time on the Snake ... on a single speed ... 3:27:51.  For the past 4 years, I have been chasing the PR demons ... to no avail.  I did not have the March race on my initial schedule as Coach wanted me to rest in preparation for P36.  Thankfully, my training had been going very well and just 3 weeks ago, she gave me the go ahead to chase down my demons.  (Which was a blessing because I was trying to figure out how I could race the finale and not let Lynda know.)

This was the 10th year anniversary.  It began in 2005 with 50 racers (1 of them was little ol' me) and the course was run in the opposite direction.  I have raced it every year and wonder how many out there have done all 10 of them as well.  This year had a total of 500 racers!

I got to the start super early and Laurie held my place in line while I lightened my load.  The starting temperature was 43 degrees and it was 53 at the finish ... perfect!  No chemical warmers needed today.  I started out in the top 20 and pretty much was in my own little bubble of happiness all day.  Knowing that my legs would be happier with a slow start, I gave them time to warm up before I really called upon them.  As I approached the creek crossing, much to my surprise, there was a bridge.  Sweet!  No wet feet today!  Once again, I have got to hand it to the NWGA Sorba crew ... they have got their act together!

Climbing up to the first bit of single track, I was making the usual mental/physical assessments and everything seemed just o.k.  My heart rate monitor was not reading correctly early on so I had to rely on perceived exertion.  As I entered the single track, I saw that ALOT of trail work had been done since February.  Another nice surprise!  I was able to motor on through and before I knew it, I was barrelling down the fire road to Pine Needle Hill.

At this point, the legs were fully awake and happy to be hammering.  I had looked at my Garmin a couple times, but did not know if I was besting my February time ... yet.  I decided not to look again until I was at the halfway point.  Traffic was minimal and everyone was being nice.  The trail was in superb shape and the typical muddy spots were nowhere to be found.  After the road crossing, the remainder of the first half flew by and before I knew it, I was bombing the last descent to the SAG ... Ligety-style.

Proud to be a part of the team.  There is no one with a bigger heart than James.

As I pulled in the parking lot to my cooler of goodies, I finally looked at my Garmin.  1:27!  Say what???   I was 6 minutes faster than February and I felt great!  I could see a PR happening.  With a quick bottle swap and gel guzzle, I was off to conquer.  The climb out of the Snake Creek Gap parking lot was the easiest it has been ... since 2010!  In no time, I was on top, hammering the ridge line.  Now that I knew what was possible could happen, I began to fear the rocks.  Oh, I love to ride the rocks, but I was worried that a flat could blow my chances.  So I began to say my anti-flat mantra, "float like a butterfly."  I really believe that this works because it allows me to focus what is on hand and not what is coming 5, 10, 20 minutes from now.  My lines become smoother, I carry my momentum, and I feather the brakes.

Before I knew it, I was flying up the last bit of fire road to my favorite section of the race.  As I turned in to the single track, I sniffed the air.  Could it be?  I have never smelled it this far out.  But, yes!  The odor was unmistakable.  IT WAS THE BARN!!

It was here that my bike morphed into a magic carpet.  I was on a definite high.  Granted, I did opt out of riding a couple sections I normally can do.  But I knew I would be just as fast, if not faster, running them.  And it would engage a different group of muscles, affording my cycling muscles a brief respite.  It has taken me years (for my ego) to acknowledge this.

I came upon Matt in this last section.  A big guy, but he could climb like no one's business!  We fed off one another's energy and it helped both of us to go faster than we would have, had we been alone.  It was all I could do to keep him in sight on the descents.  I would be able to close the gap back on the climbs.  However, once on the pavement descent, he turned his nitrous on ... and was gone!

With burning quads, I pedaled a mean streak all the way down to the finish.  Passing under the finish line, having gave it my all, I turned a 3:21:18.  So stoked to have crushed my previous PR.  I must give some props to the trail crews and the weather.  The trail was in the best shape ... every!  There were alot of racers who had PR's.

Just when you thought the trophies could not get any better, BAM!

Now that this chapter has closed, on to the next.  P ... 3 ... 6!  I am scared, very scared, for Eric can be an evil, evil man.